Posts Tagged ‘jia zhangke’

PBS “POV” Lists Essential Documentaries About China

Monday, October 17th, 2011

Disorder (dir. Huang Weikai) tied for most mentions in PBS' poll of essential documentaries about China

Last month the acclaimed documentary Last Train Home, about migrant laborers in China, made its US television premiere as part of the POV series on PBS. As part of the film’s online promotional efforts, POV polled several filmmakers and experts in Chinese cinema to recommend top documentaries and features about China. We were pleased to see that Disorder tied for most mentions among all films, including a recommendation by Last Train Home director Fan Lixin. Fan writes of Disorder: “A powerful and utterly honest mishmash of the most bizarre images from contemporary Chinese society, with an almost cynical sarcasm. I’ve never seen anything quite like it!”

Other documentaries receiving multiple recommendations: Petition by Zhao Liang, whose Crime and Punishment is distributed by dGenerate, and Up the Yangtze by Yung Chang (who also took part in the poll). Strangely, Blind Shaft also tied for most mentions in this “documentary” poll, even though it is a narrative feature.

Not surprisingly, Jia Zhangke was the most recommended filmmaker, with six mentions spread across five titles. His documentary Dong is distributed by dGenerate.

All the recommendations can be found at the POV website on PBS.

Micro-Dispatches from Film Directors on Weibo, China’s Twitter

Monday, September 26th, 2011

A number of film directors whose titles we distribute have accounts on Weibo, the Chinese microblog comparable to Twitter. We looked through these accounts for interesting messages. The following were compiled by Yuqian Yan.

Ou Ning (director of Meishi Street and San Yuan Li):

9/11 Berenice Reynaud curated the Thematic Retrospective – Digital Shadows: Last Generation Chinese Film for San Sebastian International Film Festival. It will screen 20 films, including Meishi Street. (9/18-9/19, two screenings).

9/11 The press conference for 2011 Chengdu Biennial will be held tomorrow. I’m speechless after I got this notice, “According to the official requirement of the government press conference, please wear light-color, short-sleeve shirt with a tie.” There’s still enough time to buy a light-color, short-sleeve shirt, but no one has ever taught me how to wear a tie …

Zhao Liang (director of Crime and Punishment):

9/13 F***, Money can do everything! (commenting on “the Most Beautiful Moon of the Mid-Autumn Festival)

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CinemaTalk: Interview with Professor Eugene Wang on Chinese Art and Film

Sunday, September 25th, 2011

By Michael Chenkin

Professor Eugene Wang

Eugene Yuejin Wang is Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Professor of Asian Art at Harvard University. We recently spoke with Professor Wang about his interests in Chinese art and Chinese film, the areas of intersection between these two fields, and his interest in painter Liu Xiaodong, who is the subject of Jia Zhangke’s documentary Dong. Dong will screen Monday 9/26 as the opening film of the 11-film series on Chinese independent film at Doc Films in Chicago. In this conversation Professor Wang reflects at length on the way Liu and other artists work in relation to the idea of nationhood, especially in regards to national disasters such as the 2008 Beichuan earthquake in Sichuan. Wang pays particular attention to Liu’s 2010 work “Getting Out of Beichuan,” which Wang considers “marks a new stage and possibly a new turning point in the contemporary Chinese art scene.”

A native of Jiangsu, China, Wang studied at Fudan University in Shanghai (B.A. 1983; M.A. 1986), and subsequently at Harvard University (A.M. 1990; Ph.D. 1997). He was the Ittleson Fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in Visual Art, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (1995-96) before joining the art history faculty at the University of Chicago in 1996. His teaching appointment at Harvard University began in 1997, and he became the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Professor of Asian Art in 2005.

He has received the Guggenheim Fellowship, Charles A. Ryskamp Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies, and postdoctoral and research grants from the Getty Foundation.

His book, Shaping the Lotus Sutra: Buddhist Visual Culture in Medieval China (2005) has received the Academic Achievement Award in memory of the late Professor Nichijin Sakamoto, Rissho University, Japan. He is the art history associate editor of the Encyclopedia of Buddhism (New York, 2004).

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dGF: I understand that a lot of your past research focused on Medieval Buddhist art and visual culture. Recently you have been researching Chinese film. Where did these interests arise? In addition, is there any synergy between inquiries into Buddhist art and Chinese film?

Eugene Wang: Before I started researching medieval art, I was deeply engaged in Chinese film. I actually wrote a script and published a few essays. Film has always been one of my side interests. I’m always intrigued by how people screen disparate images together. You have a set of images. They may or may not have a relationship with one another. Somehow you string them together and you have an image flow. In cinematic terms it would be called montage. If these images are on a wall, such as in Buddhist caves and wall paintings, then you have an iconographic program. There is something very interesting about the visual logic underlying this flow of images.
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Congratulations to Jia Zhangke and Zhao Tao

Monday, September 12th, 2011

On his Weibo account, Jia Zhangke announced his marriage to his longtime star and collaborator, actress Zhao Tao, during the Venice Film Festival. The following picture was posted as well. Our heartiest congratulations to husband and wife, true partners in art and in life.

Artist Yang Weidong’s New Project Asks What Chinese Really Need

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

By Isabella Tianzi Cai

Yang Weidong interviews a subject for his documentary project "Signal" (Photo: Yang Weidong)

A work in progress by Beijing artist Yang Weidong was recently shown in Hong Kong. Named “Xu Yao” or “Need” in Chinese and “Signal” in English, the documentary comprises of roughly 20 minutes of edited video interviews that Yang conducted with 237 notable Chinese subjects over the past three years. Yang asked each person the same question: “What do Chinese people need most today?” Among the interviewees were director Jia Zhangke and contemporary oil painter Liu Xiaodong, who appears as himself in Jia’s documentary Dong.

The premiere of Yang’s unfinished film project coincided with the publication of the first book in a series, also by him, named Li Ci Cun Zhao: 500 Wei Zhong Guo Ren De Xin Ling Ji Lu (Di Yi Juan) [For the Record: 500 Chinese People's Inner Thoughts (Volume I)]. On July 22, 2011, he was invited to hold a press release for the book at the Hong Kong Book Fair, which was also the venue for the first public screening of “Need.” This event has been recorded in full by the Social Record Association (aka SocREC) of Hong Kong.

The concept for Yang’s project can be traced in the Chinese documentary tradition. Back in 2000, independent filmmaker Ju Anqi made There’s a Strong Wind in Beijing, in which he and his crew famously confronted people in both public and private space in Beijing with the same question of whether they thought that the wind in Beijing was strong. Though absurd, this question sometimes opened up the conversations, tricking people to divulge what was really on their mind. Compared to Ju’s film, which is certainly more spontaneous and experimental in nature, Yang’s “Need” is more serious and urgent in tone, and the reason must be traced to Yang’s initial motivation for the project.

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The New Yorker’s Richard Brody on Zhao Liang, Jia Zhangke, Ai Weiwei

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

by Kevin B. Lee

Zhao Liang confronted by Ai Weiwei on camera

In his blog on the New Yorker website, critic Richard Brody responds to last weeks’ New York Times cover feature on Zhao Liang, director of Crime and Punishment (distributed by dGenerate) and Petition (which Brody deems “the fiercest and most confrontational film regarding the Chinese government’s suppression of dissent that I’ve seen”). Brody summarizes the article’s charting of the tensions that arose between Zhao Liang and activist/artist Ai Weiwei following Zhao’s following Jia Zhangke’s lead to withdraw their films from the 2009 Melbourne Film Festival in light of political tensions between the festival and Chinese authorities.

Brody focuses on a video of Ai’s on-camera challenge to Zhao for giving in to the government’s demands. Ai also insinuates that Jia withdrew from the festival so as to ensure good standing with the Chinese government in order to produce a government-approved film made for the Shanghai Expo, I Wish I Knew. Brody counters criticism that the film is a feature length promotional video for Shanghai compromised by the constraints of government approval:

If so, the government didn’t get its money’s worth: the film (which I reviewed when it was shown here earlier this year) is an audacious recuperation of ways of life and thought from pre-Communist China, an embrace of Taiwan and Hong Kong, a poignant lament for victims of the Cultural Revolution, and a depiction of the Expo as an alienating, inhuman monstrosity. (He did something similar when making his first officially approved film, “The World,” at Beijing’s World Park.) Jia’s symbolic art, like that of Howard Hawks and Ernst Lubitsch under the Hays Code, is ingeniously conceived to say exactly what’s on his mind regardless of external constraints.

He also tries to broker a conciliatory stance between Ai’s righteous indignation and Zhao’s pragmatic compromise:

Ai’s fury is entirely justified – he has endured, and continues to endure, horrific ordeals in order to live freely under a tyrannical regime, and he is entitled to view those who make common cause with it, of any sort, as being on the wrong side of morality. But only he and others who have endured similar persecution are entitled to say so. Heroism can’t be undertaken prescriptively, and those of us who write and make art without fear of arrest should pause before accusing Zhao of collaboration or cowardice.

Read Brody’s full article.

Jia Zhangke’s Dong and Zhao Liang’s Crime and Punishment are available on Amazon

Cinematalk: Interview with Ying Qian of Harvard

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

By Michael Chenkin

Ying Qian

Ying Qian is a PhD candidate in East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University. Qian’s area of focus involves examining the evolving documentary visions in 20th century China. She is interested in the social processes and “film thinking” that have enabled and shaped the making of documentary images, and the ways in which these images have provided framings, interventions and agencies to historical change.

Recently, Qian co-organized a conference titled “Just Images: Ethics and Chinese Documentary” at the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard. We spoke with Qian about the highlights of the conference as well as her ongoing research in Chinese documentary.

dGF: Could you give a brief overview of your research? What are your specific interests within the field of documentary film study?

Ying Qian: I’m writing a dissertation on the history of Chinese documentary since the Mao era. I also write about documentary practices in the Republican period in my introduction chapter. My interest in documentary cinema was initiated by encounters with contemporary independent documentary, and I used to make my own documentary films as well.

In my dissertation, I try to move the timeline further back. When talking about contemporary documentary, critics would point out that these films are very different from the official practices and especially from the documentary practices of an earlier era. New documentaries do not usually have a “Voice-of-God” commentary; they also have different approaches to conceptualize reality and deal with contingency in filmmaking. These observations are clearly true; though I think the division between the past and the present is not so binary. When one examines the documentary productions in the Mao-era seriously, one finds some important continuities despite many ruptures. I see documentary of the present as multiple responses to the end of the Mao-era.

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Childhood Friends, Now Major Artists: Liu Xiaodong and Wang Xiaoshuai

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

By Kevin B. Lee

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Wang Xiaoshuai (middle) and Liu Xiaodong (right) share their views on youth, art and homecoming at an open dialogue at Minsheng Museum of Art in Shanghai. [Photo: China Daily

China Daily reports on a recent public reunion between two high school buddies, international award-winning director Wang Xiaoshuai and acclaimed oil painter Liu Xiaodong, that took place at the Shanghai Museum:

When Wang Xiaoshuai realized he could never paint as finely as his high school pal Liu Xiaodong, he gave up painting and turned to filmmaking.

Liu was one of the few students from the Central Academy of Fine Arts to have a solo exhibition right after graduation. Wang, however, went through some years in low tide working in Fujian Film Studio in the early 1990s.

Since then, Wang has won many international awards for his movie productions, including the Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2001. His latest project, Chongqing Blues, competed for the Golden Palm at last year’s Cannes International Film Festival.

Liu himself is no stranger to film, having worked as an artistic collaborator with independent Sixth Generation filmmakers in the 90s, and later serving as the subject of Jia Zhangke’s documentary Dong. Recently, he is the subject of another documentary, this time by Hou Hsiao-hsien, that follows Liu as he returns to his hometown in northeast China.

At the talk Liu addressed criticism that his work takes advantage of his subjects, making millions of dollars from painting portraits of the poor and exploited. “This is hardly avoidable as we live in a commercial age,” Liu said. “Society commercializes a person incredibly quickly. As an artist, I have to be alert about being commercialized too.”

Dong is available as part of the dGenerate catalog.

Jia Zhangke Speaks Out Against Censorship

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

Jia Zhangke speaks out at a forum held at the 2011 Shanghai International Film Festival (photo: china.org.cn)

Originally published in The Guardian, June 16 2011

He had to abandon one film lest it broke anti-pornography laws. Then he ditched a spy movie rather than fill it with Communist party “superheroes”.

The frustration of making films in a country with “cultural over-cleanliness” has led an internationally acclaimed Chinese director to lash out at its censors, a state news site has reported.

Jia Zhangke won the Golden Lion at the Venice film festival in 2006 – apparently earning the approval of China’s leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping, who is expected to become president next year.

But he began his career as an “underground” film-maker – directing movies that were praised abroad but never saw official release in China– and he complained of ongoing battles with censors as he addressed a cultural forum in Shanghai. Unusually, his remarks were reported by an official news site, china.org.cn.

“The only reason that we cannot make genre movies is the barrier that censorship sets,” Jia said.

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Jia Zhangke’s “Dong” Reviewed at Not Coming to a Theater Near You

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

Dong (dir. Jia Zhangke)

By Ariella Tai

As part of a larger feature on the films of director Jia Zhangke at Not Coming to a Theater Near You, Leo Goldsmith focuses on “Jia’s first documentary proper;” Dong- available for purchase or rental through the dGenerate catalog. Goldsmith discusses the ways in which this multilayered documentary meditates on the shifting landscapes of China, both literal and economic, as well as the roles and responsibilities of the artist in these times. Goldsmith observes that Dong is,

partly about the effect the [Three Gorges Dam Project] has had on the people of the region. … Fengjie, home to the Qutang Gorge, is captured by Jia’s films as it vanishes: landscapes seem to dematerialize in the distant fog while, in the foreground, buildings are ripped apart by the hands of dozens of shirtless laborers.

The film is also, in large part, about artist Liu Xiaodong as he paints the day laborers in Fenjie and eventually travels to Thailand to complete portraits of young sex workers in Bangkok. The role that he occupies as an artist in contemporary China is as important to the film as the physical sites he visits:

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